Our Greatest Gift is Her Smile

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At 40 weeks pregnant, I was more than ready to deliver my baby girl. We both had a clean bill of health, and our doctor was happy with how my delivery was progressing. Besides my horrible anxiety of needles and the dreaded epidural (I can’t even look at a needle), I was pretty excited that this moment had finally arrived — delivery!

In the very first second of meeting my baby girl, my heart dropped. The vision of what my daughter was going to look like wasn’t what I saw. The room became quiet, and everyone stopped. Our doctor reassured us everything was going to be okay, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. Along with a swollen face, my daughter had an opening, like a cut that went through her lip on the right side up to her right nostril, but not all the way through. The dream I had of seeing my baby and crying with joy as I saw her for the first time, holding her to my chest and kissing her, was almost shattered. I didn’t cry a single tear. I was heartbroken for her. My child had a birth defect. My daughter was born with a unilateral incomplete cleft lip, and I was in disbelief.

Learning Compassion

From what I’ve read about cleft lips, it occurs early in pregnancy and is caused by a wide range of factors such as smoking during pregnancy, diabetes, an older mother, obesity, certain medications and of course, genetics. No one on either side of our family has ever had a cleft lip or palate, I never smoked, I’m not diabetic nor obese and was 28 when I delivered her. My daughters’ cleft was incomplete, meaning it didn’t go through the nostril, just up to it. And unilateral, meaning just on the one side as opposed to having both sides of the cupids bow being affected. Her palate, the roof of the mouth, was completely intact. So she was very lucky; in many cases, the palate is open, (in that case, called a cleft palate) making it hard for the baby to breathe, eat and swallow.

As a mom, even in my first few minutes of being a mom, I wanted to heal her, get her the help she needed and make sure she was going to be okay. Once we started researching cleft lip and palates, we realized her lip wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the pictures we saw, and we started to feel guilty for making such a big deal about her surgery. Her surgeon told us something that has stuck with us, though, “The only minor surgery is when it’s not happening to your child,” and that was just how we felt. She had her first repair surgery at 5 months old. During our visits and pre-ops, my husband and I met children of all ages and races with craniofacial defects, including cleft lip defects like our daughter’s. The children we met helped us become even more compassionate for those with birth defects. Our daughter’s journey became the reason why we wanted to do more. We wanted to reach out and do whatever we could to spread awareness and give to the charities that supply free repair surgeries to poor cleft lip/palate children all over the world.

In 2014, our daughter had a second surgery to better line up her cupid’s bow and her right nostril. Most people can’t even tell she had a cleft lip, but she’ll tell you all about it! And that’s what I love about this whole experience. She has the confidence, even at just 6 years old, to ”own” her story and let others know she is ok. There are many children all over the world who need our help to make sure they get the surgeries they need. Smile Train has a special place in our heart because they were the first to send us pictures of children that she related to and in turn made her more confident and proud. One day she brought me a photo and said: “Mommy, this baby looks just like me.” And yes, he sure did. She felt a connection, and I knew from that moment on we had to keep her active in our efforts to help cleft kids, both for them and for her.

In the very first second of meeting my baby girl, my heart dropped. The vision of what my daughter was going to look like wasn’t what I saw. The room became quiet, and everyone stopped.

Smile Train

This past October her birthday was a Smile Train Birthday Party, and we raised enough funds to cover three repair surgeries! We were blown away by the support from our friends, family, and community who wanted to help make sure all children have the ability to smile. We partnered with Robek’s fresh juices & smoothies and had a day of face painting, good food, and great friends. The party guests even made Smile Cards for the cleft children to open after their surgeries. It has become a passion of our family and we can’t wait to host the event again next year!

If you would have told us on the day she was born that in 6 years she was going to be a confident cleft kid who tells her story with a smile, a little girl who cares so much for other cleft kids that she wants to give them all the money in her piggy bank, that day would have been easier to handle. I’ve always known that she is pretty special and now know she is going to do great things with her experience of having a birth defect.

Contributing Sister Site and Author

About {Sherri}

A Jersey Girl at heart, business owner and graphic designer, Sherri is a mommy of two and active volunteer. A native of Jax Beach since 1992, thanks to her father’s service in the US Navy, Sherri’s roots are firmly set in Jacksonville. A Flagler College grad, she knew she wanted to be her own boss and a SAHM, so she created Sassy Ink Design Studio in 2009. She met her husband in the Florida State Football Locker Room (don’t let your mind wander, she was on a tour) and was engaged within 3 months! For a short time they lived in Destin, FL where they had their two children, but missed Jacksonville so much, they came back to raise their family in the best city in the south! Over the past 14 years, Sherri has competed in, coached and judged pageants across the state. Currently, she is Mrs. Jacksonville International, but don’t let that fool you. She kick boxes, loves football, camping and can change the oil and a tire on a car. Obsessed with Christmas, you can find Sherri designing in her home office with her snowman mug, bullet coffee and Nat King Cole playing in the background.

Sherri is a contributor for Jacksonville Moms Blog, one of our Sister Sites.

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